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A Stillborn At 6 Months: The Sorry State Of Infant Mortality In India Will Shock You

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By Bala Sai:

“Losing your child creates everlasting sadness. It is intensely painful. I think if I had met Sunita earlier my child would be alive. It makes me extremely sad to think about it.”

Shilpi is 24-year-old. Her story begins in Shahdara, one of the oldest suburbs of Delhi where she lived with her husband and mother-in-law. Coming from their native village, they made their home in the heart of India, in a city that promised a future. However, in the darkness of assumptions and ignorance, Shilpi and her family did not see that they were but a little nest lying on the ground, left unprotected by the shade of India’s healthcare system. When the scorching heat finally dawned on them, it was already too late.

Photo used for representation only. (Photo Credit)
Photo used for representation only. (Photo Credit)

When Shilpi was pregnant with her second child, she thought she knew what to expect. Her first pregnancy had had no complications, and the baby was delivered at home by a midwife. Hence she continued following the traditional birthing practices her mother had taught her. But at a certain point she knew that this time something was wrong. She was having severe blood loss and could not understand why.

I told my mother-in-law, but she wouldn’t pay much attention. She told me to eat this or that and I would get better. But it didn’t help me at all and my condition deteriorated day by day.”

She inched closer and closer to the threshold of danger, unknowingly developing severe internal bleeding that could eventually prove fatal. Shilpi knew she needed medical attention, but her mother-in-law wouldn’t hear of it. She was not allowed to step out of the house. That was when she contacted Sunita, a community health volunteer with Save The Children, and bid her to come visit at home.

I told Sunita everything about the situation and she took me to the doctor. I had absolutely no blood in my body by then. The doctor gave me an injection and I fainted right there. They admitted me and gave me four bags of blood. My child passed away. It was six and half months old.

It was a shock that rattled the household; the ultimate price they had paid for their ignorance. Sunita then had a talk with Shilpi’s family, explaining to them that if they had sought medical assistance earlier, the child could have lived.

Shilpi’s story is not an isolated one. Infant mortality rate in India stands at an appalling 41 infant deaths per 1000 live births. Every day, more than 4000 children below the age of 5, die in India; mostly from preventable causes. 48% of our children are severely malnourished. According to UNICEF, a quarter of the world’s neo-natal deaths occur in India – more than any other country in the world. In other words, every fourth still-born child is Indian.

According to a new study published by Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, maternal health in India is at a disastrous low. 20% of the world’s women who die from pregnancy everyday are Indian. More than 40% of the women in India are underweight during the onset of pregnancy; a crucial factor that determines the health of the child. In comparison, only 16.5% women in sub-Saharan Africa suffer a similar plight.

In other words, a child raised in India is far more likely to be malnourished than one from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe or Somalia, which are some of the world’s poorest countries. India, in the recent years, has taken great strides in the fields of medicine and healthcare, which makes the current situation all the more baffling.

The major reasons for this horrid plight of the children of our country are a severe lack of hygiene, absence of awareness regarding medical facilities and the shortfalls of medical infrastructure and its accessibility. More of than half of Indian women give birth in the absence of a skilled birth attendant and the chances of survival increases five times if a trained health worker is within reach. Even though child mortality and maternal mortality are considered some of the most powerful barometers of a country’s economic development, our policies pay no heed to the worsening situation. This year’s budget has set aside a meagre 1.06 per cent of our GDP, which leaves only 5.1 doctors per 1000 people; this can only strain the already crippled healthcare system.

When Shilpi conceived her third child, she knew what to do. She had learned from her past mistakes.

“I know now that during pregnancy, women should get all their injections- they should take iron, calcium medication and should take care of themselves. I would go to the mobile clinic for medications, and the doctor would perform check-ups. At that time I had high blood deficiency too. Because the clinic came here, it really helped me a lot. So when my third child was born, I didn’t even need blood. Everything was good and normal.

Unfortunately, Shilpi and her family had to undergo the trauma of losing a child before they realized the necessity of proper healthcare.

“My son is seven months old, his name is Yash. He is healthy and his coming into the family has made me happy, his father happy, everybody happy. With so many problems, everybody’s point of view has changed after meeting Sunita. I have big dreams for my child. I wish he grows up to be a doctor. But whatever he decides to become, I hope he makes us proud”, she concludes.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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